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Is Breastfeeding Natural?

When I first tell people that I am a Lactation Educator and write about Breastfeeding, I often get a funny look. Mostly commonly, I get a response along the lines of “Is that really something you need to be taught… isn’t breastfeeding just something that happens… isn’t it just kind of natural? It’s a fair question. My response is always the same – actually, making milk is natural…breastfeeding is learned.

Before I had my first child, people would ask me if I planned to breastfeed. I usually replied that yes, I planned and hoped to, but that people had told it me breastfeeding was “hard.” I didn’t really understand what that meant…I assumed, as many do, that milk comes out of the breasts and babies drink it. How hard can it be? After a poor start, multiple lactation consultations, lots of hours at a breast pump and four months of trials and tribulations, I found out it can be pretty hard!

My instructor for my lactation education class told a lovely story about a gorilla who had been raised alone in captivity and upon the birth of her baby did not feed it. As the story goes (the sources for this story are a little unclear), the zoo brought mothers from La Leche League to nurse in front of the gorilla and she was able to model their behavior. The point of the story from my instructor is that many women today are equally “raised in captivity,” having never seen breastfeeding up close. Even those who have been around breastfeeding may never have looked closely at what is going on or discussed the experience.

There is a sense in parenting today that we are expected to do it on our own, and that we are only really successful if we do so. Opinions of “experts” are preferred over mothers, sisters and friends in our lives. Most women give birth in isolated, medical environments, not surrounded by a community of women as was once common. Women who want to help the new mother in their life may not be able to be available at the times they are needed, or may feel intrusive or not know when or how to help.

Breastfeeding is not automatic. Simply bringing the baby to the breast and assuming he or she will know what to do and when to do it is far from a foolproof plan. Tired babies and mothers who have schedules disrupted by hospital needs or recovering from pain medications or birth procedures may not nurse often enough in the first days to establish a strong milk supply.

Mothers wanting to breastfeed need not fear the process, but should educate themselves before the birth on how to get a good start (see my articles in related links below on Breastfeeding in the Hospital and other topics helpful in the first days). Ideally women will also connect with other women in their lives who have successfully breastfed to learn about their experiences and see if they are available for support and questions after the birth. Most women who have breastfed will be delighted to help a new mother if asked. Feel free to ask me questions through this website (see the link to the right) or through the at BellaOnline Breastfeeding Facebook page .


Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.


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